"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." - Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight
Nearly everyone I know who started out in banking or private equity had the image of a five figure monthly salary in mind, being able to buy a home at an early age, take leisurely trips around the world, shopping at whim. It was the idea of a certain kind of financial freedom that caught us. No need for a billion dollars, just enough to live life on our terms.
If you extrapolate that income over a period of say 7 to 10 years, it is easy to see how that could be possible. When you are a twenty-something year-old looking at someone else in their late thirties or forties working in the same career as you, it can be extremely easy to be disillusioned into thinking you can do this forever.
But life is often never that straight.
Pulling the hours and all nighters for that long a time can be both mentally and physically exhausting. It comes with the sacrifice of personal time, family and friends. Most people are oblivious to how much you have to give up (and put up with) when you work almost 7-days a week, go home past midnight and never see your family and friends for extended periods of time - all for that juicy bonus at the end of every year.
Then there is also that temptation of starting a business, or a side gig, open a shop or something like that. After all what is the use of earning the big bucks when you can’t get to be your own boss one day?
Some of us would go on to invest a part of that income into either public equities or the private markets. Both pathways requires staking a significant portion of capital. The lucky ones got out alive and sometimes with a decent profit. But there are also those who unfortunately come out with losses on the other end.
Either way, statistically, it always seem to play out to the same result: We continue struggling to keep the lights on and do the jobs we do in order to justify our aspirations and lifestyles, whatever that may be.
If you are a smart guy, you’ll figure the right time to get out before the hamster wheel consumes you. After all, the whole point of why we got into the high paying jobs was because it was always more than just about amassing money, correct?
David Rubenstein, one of the co-founders of private equity firm, Carlyle, has his own talk show where it would seem that he is having a ball interviewing leaders and celebrities globally and from all walks of life.
Both Steve Schwarzman (Blackstone) and Ray Dalio (Bridgewater) have turned to writing memoirs to share their collective experience and wisdom from doing business over the years.
Andrew Ross Sorkin, no doubt a much younger chap and has a somewhat parallel career to Wall Street, has made his name both as a successful finance journalist and producer of TV show, Billions.
Recently, one of my younger friends also highlighted to me that even the chief of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, has apparently also started his own gig as a DJ.
While they are not the best examples (primarily because they are either in the celebrity realm or billionaires), it demonstrates that there is possibly an alternative life beyond Wall Street. And everyone who has made it in some way or another, finds self-fulfilment in doing something either unrelated or tangential to finance, publicly or in the private domain.
When you are in your twenties, you spend most years in the accumulation of cash. If you are the ambitious type, you might even set your sights on climbing the corporate or industry ladder. You work all-nighters and pump nitro just to get there.
By the time you reach the thirties and touching forty, and if you are lucky enough to have some credentials, you find yourself in a nice position whereby you can capitalise on the knowledge, experience and the resources. It is relatively easy to earn well from here on, but also just as easy to get caught up in workplace politics and corporate re-orgs. You are a high-cost resource treading on a thin line and might find yourself working twice as hard just to justify your existence.
It’s a never-ending cycle of work and more work.
Many years back, a friend sent me this article titled “Your Professional Decline is Coming Sooner Than You Think”. It talks about how high performance individuals often struggle personally for many years past their prime. And it is important that we start to think about what comes next when the music starts to slow down.
I have kept re-reading this article from time to time over the years, not because I’m not getting any younger, but more as a reminder of the fact that we are not invincible forever.
We have been taught to plan our careers upon graduation but no one ever mentions about how we should plan the second good half of our professional lives, and that, I think, is important.